Pigeons Outperform Radiologists


Radiology is very complex and even doctors with years of training and experience can make misdiagnoses. So far AI systems haven’t been competitive with humans; however, pigeons are. Researchers trained pigeons to identify cancers in radiology images and concluded that the birds are just as good, if not better, than human observers. With the increasing costs of healthcare maybe paying workers in birdseed is a potential solution.

We report here that pigeons (Columba livia)—which share many visual system properties with humans—can serve as promising surrogate observers of medical images, a capability not previously documented. The birds proved to have a remarkable ability to distinguish benign from malignant human breast histopathology after training with differential food reinforcement; even more importantly, the pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned when confronted with novel image sets. The birds’ histological accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color as well as by degrees of image compression, but these impacts could be ameliorated with further training. Turning to radiology, the birds proved to be similarly capable of detecting cancer-relevant microcalcifications on mammogram images.

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